Does My Story Need a Villain?

Someone posted on social media “Does a story needs a villain?” If you mean someone twirling their mustache and plotting evil deeds, no. However, your story does need an opposing force. Why? Without conflict there is no lesson learned and without a lesson learned, there is no plot. A series of events does not a novel make–at least not a good one.

A villain, or antagonist, doesn’t have to be a person. It’s all about what you want to say thematically. An oppressive system could be the villain. A city with heavy traffic, crowded streets, and indifferent attitudes could be the villain. Nature could be the villain. A good snow storm and a lost traveler are definitely not friends. The villain could be the protagonist’s own mind or hamartia (a tragic flaw).

Some examples:

In Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, there isn’t one antagonist or villain, but four. The protagonist comes across four men that embody ideologies. Three of these, the main character adopts, but all four, he ultimately rejects.

In the Terminator movies, the Matrix trilogy, I, Robot, and Blade Runner, the antagonists are machines (but actually man not thinking about the consequences of their actions, but that’s a layer I won’t get into). Which brings me to Jurassic Park. It’s humans versus nature, but again, humans against the tech they’ve made.

Castaway is an excellent example of nature playing the villain. A game is the villain in Jumanji. Anything that forces the protagonist to learn and adapt makes a good antagonist or villain, but yes. You need one.

┬ęT.J. Deschamps
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Comment Section

  • Great piece on highlighting the other possible antagonists in a story. I particularly like to explore the Man vs. Self category, but that’s also a little hard to pull off in a story. Thanks for sharing, Tammy!

  • I feel like villain insinuates that the antagonist is a person, while that isn’t necessarily true. The antagonist is just whatever the source of conflict happens to be. I happen to enjoy stories where the conflict is a subtle, yet complex thing. I think it’s so much more interesting than a clearly laid out evil!

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